What if you threw a party and nobody came? Things may not be quite that desperate, but the UFC did throw one hell of a party back in Atlanta on April 13th. And while they may have puts butts in seats at the arena, it appears that they failed to attract viewers to their TV screens—at least by their own standards.
Dave Meltzer reports in the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter, that “there is talk that [UFC 236] did well under half of the 200,000 number that would be what one would have predicted the show to do had it been a television PPV.” Not a major surprise considering widespread reports of difficulty ordering the event—largely based around ESPN+ pushing fans to go through the desktop website for purchasing, in order to watch the PPV through the their TV app or other platforms. But still, that’d put it in line alongside UFC 224 as the two lowest selling PPVs in the last 15 years for the world’s largest MMA promotion.
Following the PPV, Dana White even went so far as to acknowledge that the system is undergoing some serious growing pains, and needs to improve. “The next one will be much better,” he told reporters during the post-fight presser. “The next one, you’ll be able to purchase right through the app. It’s gonna get easier, it’s gonna get better.”
To that end, ESPN’s Andrew Feldman recently announced that fans can now purchase their UFC PPVs through the ESPN App. Hopefully for the UFC that alone will help bring in more viewers for this week’s UFC 237 fight card, headlined by a women’s strawweight title fight between Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade.
However, the fact still remains that under the new ESPN+ partnership, fans can’t even order a UFC PPV without first paying for the monthly subscription service. For those fans without reliable high speed internet, or for the casual fan who may order only a couple cards a year, that may be enough to push them away from UFC PPVs altogether... at least until the next Conor McGregor fight.
In the meantime, ESPN’s long-term deal to carry events on ESPN+ – and the understandably fickle nature of combat sports PPVs – likely means that the sports broadcast platform isn’t going to be overly concerned with poor early returns. But, with Jon Jones fighting again in July – against top contender Thiago Santos – it will be the first truly meaningful benchmark to see just how much worse the UFC’s top draws can expect to attract audiences under this new subscription model. If numbers continue to come in low, how long before ESPN looks to make some kind of adjustment in the product?